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Franklin, Columbia, & Scenic U.S. 31

Franklin is 20 miles south of Nashville; Columbia is 46 miles south of Nashville.

South of Nashville, U.S. 31 leads through the rolling Tennessee hills to the historic towns of Franklin and Columbia. This area was the heart of the middle Tennessee plantation country, and there are still many antebellum mansions along this route. Between Nashville and Franklin, you'll pass by more than a dozen old plantation homes, with still more to the south of Franklin.

Getting There -- The start of the scenic section of U.S. 31 is in Brentwood, at exit 74 off I-65. Alternatively, you can take I-65 straight to Franklin (exit 65) and then take U.S. 31 back north to Nashville. From Columbia, you can head back north on U.S. 31, take U.S. 412/Tenn. 99 east to I-65, or head west on Tenn. 50 to the Natchez Trace Parkway. This latter road is a scenic highway administered by the National Park Service.

Visitor Information -- In Franklin, stop in at the tiny Williamson County Visitor Information Center, 209 E. Main St. (tel. 615/591-8514), open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm, Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sun 1 to 4pm; closed holidays.

Exploring Franklin -- At the visitor center -- housed in a former doctor's office built in 1839 -- you can pick up information about various historic sites around the area, including a map to the historic homes along U.S. 31 and a self-guided walking-tour map of Franklin. A 15-block area of downtown and quite a few other buildings around town have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, nearly the entire town has been restored -- both commercial buildings around the central square and residential buildings in surrounding blocks -- giving the town a charming 19th-century air. The best thing to do in Franklin is just stroll around admiring the restored buildings, browsing through the many antiques stores and malls. In addition to downtown antiques malls, there are others at the I-65 interchange.

Franklin is best known in Tennessee as the site of the bloody Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. During this battle, which took place on November 30, 1864, more than 6,000 Confederate and 2,000 Union soldiers were killed. Each year on November 30, there are special activities here to commemorate the battle. Among the events are costumed actors marching through town and, after dark, a bonfire. Contact the Visitor Information Center for details.

To learn more about the town's Civil War history, visit the following historic homes.

Columbia -- Heading south from Franklin on U.S. 31 for about 26 miles will bring you to the town of Columbia. Along the way, you'll see a dozen or so historic antebellum homes, and in Columbia itself, more old homes and three districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Full Speed at the National Corvette Museum -- If the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville whets your appetite for more auto-centric sightseeing, head north on I-65 toward Bowling Green, Kentucky. Less than an hour's drive from Music City is the National Corvette Museum (tel. 800/53-VETTE [538-3883] or 270/781-7973; www.corvettemuseum.com), devoted entirely to the car model that was first launched in 1953.

With its distinctive red-and-yellow spiral tower, the museum is an eye-catching oddity within clear view of the interstate. Inside, the museum's 110,000 square feet of displays, videos, photos, and memorabilia are enough to keep speed-enthusiasts salivating. Of course, the real showstoppers are the dozens of Corvette models and concept cars. Across the street is the Corvette Assembly Plant, which also offers tours.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.